Lewis Carroll's classic is abused by lazy writing, while the cast retain some respect
Beneath the poor musical pastiches, a libretto that sounds as if it was not so much written as complied from a rhyming dictionary and the shallow character development, Wonderland has a ham-fisted feminist message. While the cast struggle to inject life into a series of vaguely connected set-pieces, Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy's book provides a weak story that takes Lewis Carroll's celebrated children's novels as an excuse to deliver a lazy narrative that fails to either capture 'the magic' or the importance of the tale's moral.
Alice is a disenchanted, divorced and desperate mother: the first musical number describes her worst day, quickly setting up the horrors of real life (ex-husband is remarrying, her car is stolen, she loses her job). Her daughter, forced to behave like an adult to support her feckless mother, joins her in a trip down the rabbit hole, where they are offered a fantasy life. Joined by an insipid male neighbour – the love interest – Alice confronts her anxieties, realises that her ex-husband was abusive and returns to the real world, now with a new partner and a daughter who is now in touch with her rebellious teenage identity.
This perfunctory plot is fleshed out with a parade of familiar characters, who decide to rebel against the Queen of Hearts, then change their minds. Despite a funky routine from the Caterpillar (Kayi Usher), there's no attempt to explore Wonderland beyond repeating that it's filled with people who became bored with life and decided to live in a fairy tale: the message of taking responsibility for change is undermined when the characters just have to jump through a magic looking glass to become the person they'd like to be.
The book can't seem to decide whether the drama is in the Mad Hatter's rebellion, Alice's steps to self-understanding and a new lover, or her daughter's journey back to sardonic adolescence. The musical numbers rotate through familiar genres – a bit of jazz, a couple of power ballads – before settling on over-wrought and dated soft rock. And while the clichéd choreography is not helped by over-crowded stage, the ensemble work hard to get across a lively passion. Yet there is so little to work with: the protagonists lack depth, the scenario is all surface, and while Alice and her new heteronormative family unit may have learnt something from their adventures, Wonderland fails to enchant.